mon 24/06/2024

Pierre Novellie, Soho Theatre review - turning a heckle into a show | reviews, news & interviews

Pierre Novellie, Soho Theatre review - turning a heckle into a show

Pierre Novellie, Soho Theatre review - turning a heckle into a show

Thoughtful take on neurodivergence

Pierre Novellie sets the scene by telling us snippets from his lifeMatt Stronge

Pierre Novellie opens his show by telling how his latest show, Why Are You Laughing?, came into being. It started, he says, when he was heckled at a previous show by someone shouting out: “I have Asperger's and I think you have it too.” It's an arresting start but Novellie doesn't mention it again until the final section of the show.

Instead he offers us diversions by way of biography, starting with his name and upbringing, which covers a few countries across two continents, from South Africa to the Isle of Man via France and Italy. Novellie then describes some of the worst gigs he has played – invariably involving an overly refreshed audience – which leads to an amusing section on the differences between various nationalities' relationship with alcohol. This could be hack, but as crimson vomit and tattoos feature he gives the subject a fresh take – and the disconnnect between the softly spoken, velvet-jacketed comic and the grossness of the material give added comic value.

Novellie also talks about his teenage love of fantasy fiction, his woeful attempts at mastering the saxophone as a schoolboy, and his days at Cambridge studying Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic studies, where he found his tribe.

At first these anecdotes, amusing though they are, seem unconnected. Yet Novellie's show has a distinct narrative arc that becomes clear when he mentions his diagnosis of autism again.

Going back to that arresting opening in the last 10 minutes or so is a clever device, as we realise Novellie has slowly built up a picture for us of who he is and how his condition affects him, and probes how crucial – or not – it is to his career as a stand-up. He also delves into why the term “Asperger's” is no longer used (this is a learning hour if nothing else) and there's a clever riff on audiences' enjoyment of comedy when performed by someone on the spectrum. It's a gently comic hour punctuated with some big laughs, and one that makes us think.

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